I spent three days in Albania and if you take a look at the shower head I used there, you see what I'm on about.
Some of you might remember when Top Gear was testing the Bentley Mulsanne Zastava Edition in Albania, only to find nothing but old Mercs and stolen British cars in this wild part of the Balkans.
The level of brand loyalty they sport is uncanny, even if the Albanians manage to mess up the spelling sometimes, ending up with "Mercedez benz" or worse. Anyway, that's nothing compared to their knock-off petrol stations, which they also have plenty of. In fact, I don't think any country has a higher petrol station/population density.
Of course most Benzes you see on the street are W123s or W124s. Then again, everything else from buses to trucks and vans are also wearing the three-pointed star, and when an Albanian makes it big, you can bet on him buying a new Mercedes straight after cashing in. So brand new AMGs, S-Classes and M-Classes are just as much part of the car park as those old taxis imported from Western countries.
So, why Mercedes-Benz, a German premium brand in the poorest (and possibly most unorganized) country in Europe?
One of the reasons is oil. Albania has some. According to Reuters, their crude output amounted to more than 1.2 million tonnes last year, but even after discovering large deposits of both oil and natural gas in 2008, Albania was in the green when it came to having fuel. Now, during the Yugoslavian wars, that fuel was needed throughout the Balkans and the Albanian mafia wasn't shy to meet the demand by smuggling. On small-scale, that meant driving through the border with a car that had a large fuel tank.
That's all very well, but where I'm from, fuel smugglers used everything back in the day from C3 Audi 100s (5000s) to B3 Volkswagen Passats and vans converted into tankers in sheds. No health&safety regulations involved.
Two other major factors tip the scale in favor of Mercedes-Benz.
One is bad roads. Mercedes built these cars to last forever and Albania certainly knows how to challenge that claim. Although there are some highways in the country, those aren't exactly Autobahns either having no lanes whatsoever, people cycling on the side in the opposite direction and others running and climbing through the barriers. Still, at least there's tarmac.
In most cases though, there isn't, just dirt roads with holes and rocks that can break the suspension or punch a tire in no time if you drive too fast. Like, above 12 mph.
So, big tanks and beefy suspensions. The final part of the puzzle is prestige, plain and simple. BMW and Audi might have hit Mercedes sales hard in the last decade or so in the Western countries, but in less developed parts of the world, Mercedes is still the ultimate representation of luxury and the fact that you've made it.
Oh Lord, won't you buy me, a Mercedes-Benz? Janis Joplin would have loved Albania. They have drugs too.